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Studies on the Women of the Bible
Davis W. Huckabee
`Now it came to pass in the day when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years,” (Ruth 1:1-4).
We do not know who wrote the Book of Ruth, but the recording of the genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22 indicates that it was written at least as late as the days when David had become King and was in favor with many of the people. It is enough to know that Inspiration has recorded it in Holy Scripture, and this in spite of some strange, almost contrary facts concerning its main character.
The author continually reminds us that Ruth was not an Israelite (Ruth 2:2-6, 10, 21; 4:5, 10). Israel regarded Moab as an inferior people, descended from an incestuous union (Gen. 19:30-38). The Law stated that “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendents may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation’ (Deut. 23:3) because Ammon and Moab had been hostile toward Israel since the days of Moses... This historical enmity and the express command of Scripture make it astonishing that God chow a Moabitess to be the ancestor of both David and Jesus, that the author of the book of Ruth- stressed this fact, and that the Jews revered David’s ancestress enough to acknowledge the story as Scripture. —NavPress Bible Study on the books of Ruth and Esther, pp. 12, 13.
Ruth is one of only five women that are listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-16, these being Tamar, (v. 3), Rahab, (v. 5), Ruth, (v. 5), Bathsheba, (v. 6) and Mary, (v. 16), two of which were non-Jews and three of which had moral blemishes on their persons. The only explanation that we can conceive for these strange things is that God would show the “exceeding riches of the manifold grace of God” by transcending national, legal and even logical guidelines in His goodness. His providence is everywhere evident in this book as He controls and even glorifies Himself in that which is to mortals great trials and causes of great bitterness. One of the hardest things for sinners, yes, even saved sinners, is to see the Hand of God in all things.
The main purpose of- the book of Ruth is historical. It explains the ancestry of David and builds a bridge between the time of the Judges and the period when God gave Israel a King. This little book reveals-the providence of God in the way He guided Ruth and Naomi. It encourages me to know that God still cares for us even when_ we’re hitter toward Him, as Naomi was. God directed Ruth, a anew believer,” and used her faith and obedience to transform defeat into victory. God is concerned about the details of our lives, and this fact should give us courage and joy as we seek to live each day to please Him. —Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Study on the Books of Ruth and Esther, p. 8.
The days of the judges was a time of great apostasy and rebellion by the nation of Israel as “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 17:6; 21:25), and because of this ongoing rebellion, God often brought calamities upon the nation. The famine mentioned in Ruth 1:1 was one of these calamities and Elimelech and Naomi responded to this logically instead of in faith. It is curious to observe that the literal meaning of Bethlehem—their hometown—is “House of bread,” yet there was little bread to be had here, but this couple had heard that in Moab there was no famine, and so bread was to be had there. This was the same, seemingly logical response that Abraham had made to a similar situation, (Gen. 12:9-10). There is always a tendency for the stomach to rule the heart so that it is hard to believe when one is hungry, yet often such, when it befalls a genuine saint, is simply God testing that one’s faith.
God had promised Israel victory over the Canaanites if His people remained faithful to Him, but defeat and enslavement if they shared their loyalties with other gods. The book of Judges shows a repeating cycle of apostasy, oppression by foreign peoples, appeals for help, and deliverance by the ever-faithful Lord. What the Israelites saw at the time, however, was an endless series of skirmishes and raids interspersed with months or years of tense peace. The “judges” who arose were men (and one woman) endowed by God with special skills to lead the tribes. They were chiefly empowered to lead in warfare, but God also gifted them with wisdom, discernment, and moral virtue. —NavPress Bible Study on the books of Ruth and Esther, p. 11.
Here then was the setting of this little book of Ruth. A couple leaves their God-appointed home to move to a foreign and idolatrous land because of a lack of faith in the Lord’s provision, and yet, in spite of this lack of faith, God works His will. But in the process three lives are ended, leaving three destitute widows with no hope of having any help or support in that pagan land. It is so true that “where the Lord leads, He feeds,” but when a person thinks himself sufficient to lead himself aright, calamity always follows in due time, as said the prophet, (Jer. 10:23). Naomi is inexorable involved in the life of Ruth, having had a tremendous influence on her in the early days of her marriage to her son, so that we cannot consider either one without considering the other as well.
- CONSIDER THE COMPROMISES.
There were a number of compromises involved in the life of Ruth, beginning with the removal of Elimelech and Naomi down into Moab before Ruth entered the picture. From the first occupancy of the Promised Land, Israel had compromised on God’s command to have no fellowship with the pagan nations then occupying this land. God’s command to Israel was that when they came into the land they were to utterly destroy every one of the numerous nations then occupying it, (Deut. 20:15-17). And the reason given for this was that all these were thorough pagans and would corrupt the nation’s worship of Jehovah by bringing in their religious abominations, (Deut. 20:18).
Moab was the neighboring nation to the southeast of Israel, and though its people were descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, yet they were enemies to the Jews, (Judges 3:28), and often dominated them. On one occasion they hired Balaam, the hireling prophet to curse Israel for them, but God refused to do so, (Num. 22:1ff; Deut. 23:4-6). What business then had an Israelite and his wife going down to sojourn among such people? None except as they like some people in New Testament times had made their bellies their god, (Phil. 3:19). There is no spirituality possible when bodily desires rule the whole person, yet this is commonly done.
This was their first compromise, and it led, after the death of Elimelech, to yet another compromise for both sons of Naomi took wives of the daughters of Moab, which was interdicted in such texts as Deuteronomy 23:3ff; Ezra 9:1-2, and Nehemiah 13:23. Here was the sin that brought about the universal deluge in the days of Noah—the intermarriage of men of the faith line with the daughters of men, (Gen. 6:1-3)—beautiful women that were idolaters, and so would corrupt their husbands’ worship of the true God.
The offences which so largely provoked the deluge are these: III-assorted marriages of believers with infidels whereby their testimony for God was hampered and clouded. So the salt lost its savor... The sins of the sons of God consisted in entering the sacred marriage relation under the promptings of mere desire for beauty, regardless of the effect on their holy mission as world preservers. —B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation of The English Bible, Vol. 1, pp. 172-173.
But this compromise did not please God, with the result that instead of blessing the marriages He cursed them, so that all three of the family heads died, leaving three destitute widows with no resources except God. It is hard for people today, in our times of affluence and the multiple government agencies that are set up to help the destitute, to realize the extent of destitution that such women had in ancient times. But there is a blessed lesson in all this as is expressed so beautifully in Hebrews 13:5-6. “Let your conversation (Conduct or Life-style) be without covetousness (literally the desire for more); and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” When people realize that they have nothing upon which to depend but God, faith is often engendered toward Him, whereas if there are human resources available the natural tendency is to look to these instead of to God.
In spite of Naomi and her husband Elimelech and their sons being out of the will of God by being in Moab, they were still the people of God, and God’s care was directed to them, even in their backslidden condition. In them is to be seen the principle set forth in 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” There is a play on words here: apistos—”believe not” or “unfaithful—pistos—”faithful.” God is always faithful, for that is one of His Divine attributes, and human unfaithfulness cannot cancel out God’s faithfulness to His people.
One thing must be observed here, and that is, that even in the midst of their compromise, this family apparently maintained a semblance of the worship of Jehovah, for subsequent events suggest that both daughters-in-law had come to also worship the God of Israel. Granted, Orpah’s must have not been a genuine conversion to the worship of Jehovah, for she went back to her former gods, (Ruth 1:15), but Ruth did not, proclaiming that “thy God (shall be) my God,” (Ruth 1:16). And there were other weighty considerations for both these young widows, for Naomi shows her concern for them finding rest in the house of a husband, (Ruth 1:8ff).
Here in Ruth, Naomi is speaking of the security and blessing a woman could attain only if she was married, but a Hebrew reader could not miss the allusion to the rest Israel longed for… The tie to kin and ancestral gods was strong, and the fear of strangers and strange gods was natural. Furthermore, Orpah knew that her chances of remarriage in Judah were slim. Israelites were prejudiced against foreigners, and the children of a Moabite might be barred from the religious congregation (Deut. 23:3-6). A man would prefer an Israelite virgin to a penniless Moabite widow. —NavPress Bible Study on Ruth and Esther, pp. 25-26.
But for all her bitterness at having the hand of God against her, (Ruth 1:13), Naomi’s worship of Jehovah had a bearing upon Ruth so that she cleaves to her mother-in-law and refuses to go back to her family and their gods. Often God shines through the life of His own even when it is not all that it should be, and influences others thereby. The negligent saint gets no credit for his influence under these circumstances, but God shows His absolute sovereignty in overruling human frailty and faultiness to His glory.
There was another attempted compromise on Naomi’s part, for whereas her name meant “pleasant” she denies her life to have exemplified this, and upon arrival back at home insists that people call her Mara—”bitterness”—because the Lord had dealt bitterly with her, (Ruth 1:19-21). Yet never does the Inspired narrative use this name of her, for He that sees and “declares the end from the beginning,” (Isa. 46:10), knew that her bitterness was only temporary, and that in the end her circumstances would be pleasant, (Ruth 4:14-17). Throughout this account it is difficult to determine how much of Naomi’s words reflect genuine repentance and how much only evidence self-pity.
Ruth begins to come to the fore when Naomi prepares to return home to Israel, and insists on the daughters-in-law returning to their own people, for Ruth is resolute in her determination to go with Naomi. Evidently there was a strong bond of love between these three women, though Orpah allowed the circumstances to dictate a fatal course of life for her. She turned back to her family and to idolatry, showing that she did not have that on-going faith that is typical of true saints, (Heb. 10:38-39), but Ruth had a different faith—one that cleaved to the true God.
Naomi was trying to cover up, Orpah had given up, but Ruth was prepared to stand up! She refused to listen to her mother-in-law’s pleas or follow her sister-in-law’s bad example. Why? Because she had come to trust in the God of Israel (Ruth 2:12). She had experienced trials and disappointments, but instead of blaming God, she had trusted Him and was not ashamed to confess her faith. In spite of the bad example of her disobedient in-laws, Ruth had come to know the true and living Gad, and she wanted to be with His people and dwell in His land... We can’t control the circumstances of life, but we can control how we respond to them. That’s what faith is all about, daring to believe that God is working everything for our good even when we don’t feel like it or see it happening. —Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Study on Ruth and Esther, pp. 21-23.
- CONSIDER COMING HOME.
After being ten years out of the country, (Ruth 1:4), their arrival back in Bethlehem in Judah caused a great stir among the populace, (Ruth 1:18-21). Their arrival was in late spring in the time of the barley harvest which took place in April and May. It would be an opportune time for the young Moabite widow. For the Mosaic Law had decreed that the poor and widows and yes, even aliens that lived among them, had the right to glean in the harvest fields, picking up heads of grain that had been dropped during the process of harvest, (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21). This was God’s provision for the poor to have ways to gather their needed food supplies that did not make them into beggars but enabled them to earn their needs by honest labor.
In Ruth 2:1 we have a preview of the one that was to become Ruth’s husband in due time, but when she determines to go forth to gather food for herself and for her mother-in-law Ruth is not aware of God’s providential workings in this matter. Her only hope was to ‘find grace” in someone’s sight so as to be allowed to gather the gleanings, (Ruth 2:2-3). How often God is at work behind the scenes, pulling all the strings for our good, though we be not aware of His Hand in it.
The Law required landowners to leave the grain at the edges of their
fields and any ears that the harvesters dropped. The poor, aliens,
widows, and fatherless were supposed to be allowed to glean (Ruth 2:3) those leftovers for their own needs (Deut. 24:19). This system provided for the poor but let them work for their needs rather than depending upon outright charity. Ruth planned to glean behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor (Ruth 2:2). She may not have known that in Israel gleaning was a right, not a special privilege. Or, she may have known that not all landowners respected God’s Law since there was no one to enforce it. —NavPress Study on Ruth and Esther, pp. 34-35.
But as Jesus declared in John 5:17, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” That is, the Godhead is constantly at work in providence as all three Persons constantly work to fulfill the good will that God has for His people, and it is a tragically blind person that cannot see the Hand of God all about him. So God was ahead of Ruth in preparing to bless her that had come to trust in Him, (Ruth 2:12).
What seemed a mere accident—she “happened,” (v. 3 margin) to glean in the field of the one man in Israel that had the right of a kinsman redeemer that would exercise it in her behalf. Boaz was evidently an older man, though a godly one, and he immediately shows favor to this foreign widow, and insists that she not go to any other fields but his, and put her under his special protection, allowing her to eat and to drink of his provisions. She is amazed at all this, but learns that he knows all about her kindness to Naomi and her commitment to the God of Israel, (Ruth 2:8-14).
Ruth’s humility is seen throughout her life, for never is there any indication of pride or arrogance on her part, for she repeatedly desires to “find grace,” or “find favor” (the same thing) in the sight of others, (Ruth 2:2, 10, 13). In regard to God, this phrase often occurs as the explanation of one’s salvation—the only explanation—(Gen. 6:8; Luke 1:30; Acts 7:46, et al. On Genesis 6:8 it is well said:
This man and his family were the only exception to the general apostasy. God always reserves some in the worst of times, for himself. There is a remnant, according to the election of grace; it was but a small one, and that now appeared; and this was owing to the grace of God, and his choice upon that, and not to the merits of the creature. This grace, which Noah found and shared in, was the favor and good will of God. —John Gill, Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 38.
Her desire was to find favor in the eyes of the Israelites as she had already found favor with the God of Israel, as was recognized by Boaz, (Ruth 2:12). But the grace of God in the heart will invariably cause a person to be gracious to others, and if one is not gracious to his fellow creatures he has reason to question whether he himself is in a state of grace before God. Sad to say, but there are some “Sovereign Grace Baptists” that are utterly hateful to all others who may not see the grace of God as clearly as they do. But we must understand something. This is a doctrine that no one naturally believes, but to which one must be converted. And non-sovereign grace people may simply not be as far along the road toward full understanding as others are, and so, we must be gracious to them until God reveals His truth to them and converts them unto it. It is altogether too, easy to be self-righteous in this matter.
And God grants the desire of this “stranger” that had by faith come under His wings, (Ruth 2:12), and she finds favor in the eyes of Boaz, the owner of the field in which she has “happened” to glean. He commands his servants to deliberately let some sheaves drop to the ground for her benefit. These were “handfuls of purpose for her,” (Ruth 2:15-16). A number of years ago James Smith published a multi-volume set of sermon outlines to help preachers in their sermonizing, and he entitled the set Handfuls Of Purpose.
At the end of this first day of gleaning, when Ruth winnowed out her gleanings it was an ephah, somewhat over a bushel, (Ruth 2:17), a considerable amount for one day’s labor, but easily explainable by Boaz’s instructions to his servants, (Ruth 2:15-16). Naomi is intensely interested in where Ruth had gleaned and how she came to have gained so much barley, and when she learns all the facts she praises the Lord for having led Ruth to a near kinsman, (Ruth 2:18-20). It is instructive to see the change in Naomi’s attitude from this time and forward, for no more is she taken up with her own bitterness and loss. Now she is concerned primarily for the welfare of Ruth.
The interest of Boaz in Ruth is evidenced when he tells her to continue to glean in his field even into the wheat harvest that is to follow the next month, (Ruth 2:21-23), and she returned each evening to her home with Naomi. There is a considerable time lapse implied between chapters two and three, for the wheat harvest would have begun about a month later, and would have occupied a number of days. And the feasting that takes place in chapter three was a celebration after the harvest was ended and all of the grain winnowed out. Good harvests were always occasions for celebration for they marked God’s blessings upon the land, and assured landowners of their need for the coming months. So it was common to celebrate the ending of harvest with a feast, (Judges 9:27; Isa. 9:3), sometimes going to extremes therein.
- CONSIDER THE COMFORT.
From her earliest determination to return home to Bethlehem, Naomi had been concerned for her former daughters-in-law’s welfare, and this is increased as she begins to see God’s Hand at work in Ruth’s life. “Then Naomi her mother-in-law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?” (Ruth 3:1). She gives her instruction as to how to conduct herself at the threshing floor when all the work is finished and the feasting is ended. Concerning the threshing floor it is said:
Which was a place covered at the top, but open elsewhere, whither Ruth might easily come. And this work of winnowing corn was usually begun or ended with a feast, as may be gathered both from verse 7, and from other instances, wherein they used to do so upon like occasions; and this work was to begin this evening, and, as some think, was done only in the evenings, when the heat grew less, and the wind began to blow. —Matthew Poole, Commentary On The Holy Bible, Vol. 1, p. 510.
Naomi instructs Ruth to bath, anoint herself and put on fresh clean clothing, although some think that this refers to putting off her widows’ clothing to show that she was no longer in mourning for her husband, but was now open to a proposal of marriage. She was then to secretly enter the threshing floor, allowing no one to recognize her. Some have implied that the things that were done were violations of decency and good order, yet from all that is said here, apparently both Boaz and Ruth took great care lest there should be any implications of wrong doing by either of them. When the winnowing was finished and the feasting was over and Boaz lay down to sleep Ruth was to take a submissive position at his feet and then await him to take the initiative, and Ruth agrees to do so, (Ruth 3:3-5). The following throws light upon the actions of both these people at this time.
This may seem to us to be strange advice, and not consistent with the character of pious and virtuous women, which they both bore, and with that modesty they otherwise seem to be possessed of. To clear this, let it be observed, that this man was, as Naomi thought, the next kinsman, and so in right of the law in Deuteronomy 25:5; was the husband of Ruth, and therefore might take such a freedom with him as she did. And it seems by the same law as if the woman was to make the demand of marriage, which may serve to reconcile the carriage of Ruth to her character. —John Gill, Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 101.
Uncover his feet and lie down (Ruth 3:4). This custom is not mentioned elsewhere in ancient writings, but the context makes clear that it is a request for marriage. Boaz does not think it promiscuous (Ruth 3:1-1). Ancient people used garments symbolically in many ways. Among the Arabs to spread the corner of your garment over (Ruth 3:9) a woman was to take her in marriage, so Ruth 3:9 is definitely a proposal Thus in 3:7 Ruth simply acts out the request she-makes verbally in 3:9-.—NavPress- Bible Study on Ruth and Esther, p. 40.
Reference to Ezekiel 16:8, however, sheds light upon the phrase to “spread thy skirt over thine handmaid,” for there God pictures His taking of Jerusalem into an intimate covenant relationship in this way. Often in the Old Testament God’s relationship to Israel was likened to a marriage, which is clearly what is symbolized in Ruth’s request that Boaz spread his garment over her.
Ruth obeys Naomi’s counsel and carries out all of this advice to the letter. So that when Boaz awakens at midnight and finds a, woman at his feet, he is first fearful lest some immoral woman might have sought to take advantage of a rich older man for her own benefit. Ruth acknowledges herself to be his handmaid, and voices her desire to be taken in marriage by him, for she, like Naomi, assumes that Boaz is the first in line to be the kinsman redeemer to her. He blesses her and agrees to her request as soon as the proper procedures can be observed, (Ruth 3:6-11). He acknowledges her citywide renown as a virtuous woman, for she has been established among the Bethlehemites as an admirable woman from her first arrival here.
Boaz explains that there is a kinsman that is nearer related to the dead than he is, and this one must be consulted and offered the opportunity to do what is required for this widow. He would bring up the matter the next morning and assured her that one way or another, she would shortly have a husband. As they lay together in the darkness one wonders what they talked about as they contemplated the possibility of a life together. They had known one another in a casual way before, but now they have the opportunity to talk about the possibilities of becoming husband and wife, and one wonders if they were not both greatly intrigued with this. Scripture is silent as to Boaz ever having been married before, so that his had probably been a lonely life up to this point, and Ruth’s life had heretofore been a hard one with much heartache. Now God has brought them together into a possibly happy union.
Before Boaz sends Ruth away in the darkness to return to Naomi’s house, he has her remove her veil and he fills this with as much barley as she can conveniently carry, and she returns home to await the out-working of the redemption. Perhaps this was done so that if anyone saw Ruth leaving the threshing floor with a load of barley there would be no thought of anything having happened except that some woman had obtained barley to grind for the morning meal. Naomi’s question to Ruth in 3:16 seems strange to us, but Ruth’s explanation of all that had transpired at the threshing floor seems to indicate that Naomi’s question was, in essence, “What happened? What is your standing as a result of this? Is Boaz willing to take you to wife?” With the explanation given, Naomi counsels Ruth to sit still and await Boaz’s working out everything. For she was assured that he was not only a man of action, but a man of integrity that would be diligent to fulfill the Law’s requirements as soon as was possible and for the good of the young widow.
The next day Boaz goes to the city gate where people were constantly coming and going, for this was anciently where all sorts of business was transacted, and he watches for the other kinsman to come by. Gill suggests that the phrase “Behold the kinsman...” is meant to suggest the providence of the Lord in bringing this man to this place just at this time. Boaz also asks ten of the elders to the city to sit down so as to be witnesses of the transaction that is about to transpire.
He took ten men, to be umpires or witnesses between them; for though two or three witnesses were sufficient, yet in weightier matters they used more. And ten was the usual number among the Jews, in causes of matrimony and divorce, and translation of inheritances; who were both judges of the causes, and witnesses of the fact. —Matthew Pool, Commentary On The Holy Bible, Vol. 1, p. 511.
Boaz immediately brings up about Naomi being about to sell a parcel of land, that could be redeemed by one or the other of them, (Ruth 4:1-4). Though widows could not inherit property in ancient Israel, for it was always in the man’s name, they could have some impact on the disposal of it. The Divine Law regarding this is found in Leviticus 25:25 and Deuteronomy 25:5ff, the latter text of which decreed that the near kinsman was to marry the childless widow and raise up seed unto the dead relative. And it was considered a reproach on the man that refused to do this.
With these facts before him, this nearer kinsman first determines to redeem the property for himself, but then learns that there were marital strings attached, and that he cannot redeem the property without also marrying Mahlon’s widow, (vv. 5-6). He therefore surrenders his right to this property, for he realized that to take Ruth to wife and have a child by her would mar his own inheritance in some way. He symbolically surrenders his rights by plucking off his shoe and giving it to Boaz, which was a way of saying, “I surrender the right to even set a foot on this property. I concede all rights to you.” And so, this was all confirmed before the elders of the city, (vv. 9-11), and they pronounce a blessing upon Boaz and Ruth, (vv. 11-12). And they were blessed with a son.
The love story of Ruth and Boaz is one of innocence, tenderness, and caring and respect for each other. The Lord blessed the marriage of Ruth and Boaz with a baby boy named Obed. Through this son, Ruth became the great-grandmother of David and ancestress of Christ —Wendy Gale Barkman, Women of the Bible, Compared and Contrasted, p. 26.
This son was not only the delight of Boaz and Ruth, but the women of Bethlehem recognized that all of this is a great blessing to Naomi, for she is assured of being well taken care of in her old age, (Ruth 4:14-16). In the closing verses of this book we have the genealogy of this family traced down to the days of King David.
The book of Ruth opens with three funerals but closes with a wedding. There is a good deal of weeping recorded in the first chapter, but the last chapter records an overflowing of joy in the little town of Bethlehem. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:5 KJV). Not all of life’s stories have this kind of happy ending, but this little book reminds us that, for the Christian God still writes the last chapter We don’t have to be afraid of the future. —Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Study On Ruth and Esther, pp. 43-44.
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